Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year End Wrap-Up, part 2

Disappointments of 2015
In my reviews, I try to find some positives in the negative and some negatives to the positives, but there were still a few things that were disappointing in the world of gaming in 2015.

The biggest one to me was The Elder Scrolls Online.  I'm a fan of Bethesda's games, and while I wasn't initially sold on an MMO version, I figured they couldn't mess it up completely.  Well, I was pretty much wrong.  The game did have a massive amount of content, I will give it that.  Pretty much every other aspect was messed up or ruined, though.  The game just didn't feel like an Elder Scrolls game at all, but an MMO with an Elder Scrolls skin.  Combat didn't feel right.  Stealing was a pain, and you couldn't do the tried and true reload if you messed up.  The fact that you had to pick a class just runs against all the series has established.  I wasn't looking forward to the game too much, and it severely let me down.  I really regretted buying the game at all, let along paying full price for the monstrosity.  My wife was able to stomach enough of it to get our money's worth, but I just couldn't bring myself to play it, and I tried several times.

Most of my other disappointments were minor compared to a whole game, but the main reason I was looking forward to playing some Call of Duty: Black Ops III was another casualty.  I like horde modes in games, and I heard good things about the aliens one in a previous CoD game.  The zombie mode in Black Ops III is just not enough, nor even fun.  There's only one map unless you buy the season pass, which gives you one whole other map!  Wow, what a bargain!  Oh, right, sarcasm doesn't translate to text.  It's dumb.  Plus, you go down in three hits, which happens stupid fast because they will just come up silently from behind and take you down before you can turn to shoot them.  The first three waves go fine, then it just goes downhill for me fast.  There's a whole ritual thing you are supposed to do and items to get, but I just want a standard horde mode.  If they wanted to do this new one, fine, but make it one of a few different maps.  Have at least one traditional one that I don't have to pay extra for.  They also threw low XP into the mode for good measure.  All in all, I pretty much regret buying the game, and I got it for a very low price.

At the insistence of my fellow XPound/Pez of the Mind/WhateverItIsThisWeek member Chriz, I tried out the Star Wars Battlefront beta.  The multiplayer versus was no fun at all to me.  Even the brief time I was a hero did nothing to sway me into enjoying the experience.  It's a pretty game, but didn't have anything I really liked.  The survival mode was ok at best, but even it was only two players and couldn't pull me to the dark side.  If there was some single player I might have bothered, but I'm glad I skipped the "full" game.

Lastly, I will sadly mention some things about Transformers: Devastation.  I like the game, but it was too short.  It has some cool artwork tied to achievements that I would love to use for my background.  Problem is, some of them are for the harder achievements, meaning I'd have to put in way too much time and effort for a minor gain.  One of the ones I really wanted was a community challenge that came and went with likely nobody else trying for it.  The challenge happened a few weeks after release, when most people were long done with the game, considering you can beat it in a day or two easy.  I was able to make due to get a decent background with the screenshot tool, but I would really like to get some of that artwork to make my dashboard look cool.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year End Wrap-Up, part 1

Favorite Games of 2015
First and foremost, I'll talk about some of the top games I played in 2015, whether I reviewed them or not.  Might as well start with the good news, which is something I don't often do.

If you know me or listen to the XER/ZR/WhateverItIsThisWeek podcast, the first choice should be obvious.  Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was a lot of fun.  It had some significant changes to the movement of the characters, most of which was really needed.  I was afraid how it would alter the experience, but I thought the changes were good and the game was a lot of fun.  There's also a lot of content, since this is the expanded version.  Lots of new monsters to kill, and I had a lot of fun playing it.  Fun by myself, and a blast with friends.

Next up is one of my favorite games I played this year, Lost Dimension.  It was a really fun strategy RPG with a fun twist: there were traitors in your group.  Each of the five floors of the tower tasked you with figuring out who the traitor was, and getting others to follow your choice.  The traitor was then erased from existence.  Battles were fun and you could equip the power sets of any executed party members, making for some neat combinations.  I know many people didn't like it much but I really enjoyed the game.

Of course Disgaea 5 would be on my list.  I like strategy RPGs, and Disgaea is still their king.  Fun characters, new troop types and some great additions and changes to the Netherworld made this a great entry in the series.  I'm really tempted to buy the season pass for the extra characters and levels.  I'm not always fond of what seems like every game having a season pass, but I liked Disgaea 5 enough that I'm tempted to shell out money for more content.

Even though I have not finished the review of the game yet, Eiyuu Senki should be on this list.  No harm in being thorough, right?  The game is really fun, even without all the AO-rated stuff.  I often debate if I should continue assaulting my next target, or simply do more personal events.  It's not too hard, and I've found the game to be funny, too.  Look forward to the full review early next year.

Lastly, I really liked Divinity: Original Sin.  There were a lot of small problems, but they didn't add up to enough to ruin the whole game.  Plus, I played 95% of it with my wife.  Couch co-op is a lot of fun with a good partner, and the game worked beautifully for both of us.  There are a lot of ways to build a character, and I have another one or two that I'd love to try out, even if it is by myself.  A really good RPG that takes awhile to play.  Just be prepared to get your butt handed to you sometimes.  I'm hoping the sequel will also makes its way to consoles.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Legends of Eisenwald (PC) Quick Review

I received a review code for Legends of Eisenwald a while ago, and got a chance to check it out for a bit.  It's a turn-based RPG with some unique elements that make it unlike any game I have played before.  The graphics are pretty good on my PC (i7-something), and the game runs really well with no hiccups or slowdown that I experienced.

Combat takes place on a hex-based grid.  When a character's turn comes up (based off of their initiative), they can choose a target to attack.  You will then move toward them and attack.  However, there is a chance they will counter-attack, so the aggressor might take some damage too.  Depending on which side you click on, the character will move to a different hex.  There are a few caveats, though.  You can't just have a person move somewhere, as they have to have a target.  If you are next to an enemy, you have to attack them.  This can really hurt archer units, but can be used to your advantage.  Sometimes, when one enemy is left, they might surrender, ending the battle early!  That alone is pretty cool, since I haven't seen that in a game yet.

Since your main character is whichever class you chose for them, you will need to fill out your ranks with mercenaries.  Your party can have a lot of characters, but you'll have to pay for them.  You aren't just limited to fighters and archers, though.  Healers and mages can also be hired.  Both use magic to heal, support or do other effects.  They can't attack with weapons like the others can, but they can retreat to a safe hex if an enemy is in their face.  If you don't have enough to cast a spell, they can meditate to restore some magic for the next turn.  Magic type characters are useful, but they can't do much if they are the only ones left.

Your main character can purchase skills when he or she levels up.  Hired warriors will instead upgrade their class, and there are splits in the tree where you have to decide which class to make them.  It is possible to have different types, since you can hire several different people to help you out.  Each character can also equip several different pieces of armor, and some can even ride horses (assuming the terrain allows it).  People have default equipment that you cannot remove, but anything you have them equip will be used instead.  This threw me off for a bit in the beginning, since I didn't realize why they had secondary slots under their equipment.  From a gameplay perspective, it's nice so they aren't stuck punching guys if they don't have a weapon equipped.

There is also a time mechanic to make use of in the game.  By default, time will only move forward when you are moving.  It is possible to have it go forward when you are standing around as well.  There are certain events that may only happen at night, plus you will have to pay your mercenaries when the next dawn rises.  I've seen the day/night cycle in games before, but it seems much more natural in Eisenwald.  The cycle isn't too fast or too slow.  Plus, you can adjust the speed that you/the clock moves if you want to move it along.  Just a well done aspect of the game.

I haven't played a whole lot of the game yet, but Legends of Eisenwald is pretty fun so far.  The unique hex-based strategy combat is very interesting.  The game is a good challenge, and the prologue is good at teaching you game mechanics without hand-holding.  As an involved RPG with a lot of focus on the story, there are times when you have to choose one side or the other.  On the other hand, it isn't a very easy game to pick up and play weeks later, but the quest log will help you find your way again.  Legends of Eisenwald is a solid RPG for PC players to pick up.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Black Desert Online (PC) Beta Preview

I was recently supplied a code for the closed beta test of Black Desert Online.  It only ran for a week, but I got in a little time to play at, and after seeing the character creator, so did my wife.

Before I get into the creator, though, I would like to say the game looks really nice.  My machine is likely ancient by now (purchased 7 months ago), but the game ran smooth on the medium settings.  Setting it on high had a noticeable dip in the frame rate.  Either way, the character models looked really good, as did the environments.  The opening cinematic was a little choppy though.

The character creator was really, really good.  It had far more details than I would have thought.  Granted, there weren't a lot of costume options, likely because your character shows what they have equipped, but there are several selections to show you what some of their armor sets look like.  You first set a family name, that all characters on your account will share, but later name each individual.  You can set their astrological sign, which seems only good for RP purposes right now, and even see what they look like in different lighting conditions.

Many body parts are editable with sliders to the three axes (depth, length and width) to give some good freedom.  It reminds me a lot of the systems found in the WWE games for creating a wrestler.  Each hairstyle also has many points that you can click and drag around to give personal touches to it.  That was pretty impressive.

There were several character types/classes to choose from, but they seem locked into predefined genders.  There might be some reason for this, but it's not what I would prefer.  Either way, I spied at least 2-3 that I would like to try out, and so did my wife.  I first went with a sorceress, who, according to the description, has some strong ranged and melee attacks.  Sounds fun.

I don't play many games on the PC, but I have played my fair share of MMOs, so I have a decent point of reference for using the keyboard and mouse.  In Black Desert Online, it just felt...awkward.  Aiming with the mouse worked fine, and your two primary attacks were on the two mouse buttons.  So far, ok.  Moving was with the WASD keys.  A and D would strafe, but turn you if you were moving.  That may be a newer thing, but I prefer to have strafe and turn to be different buttons.  Nearby keys, like F, were other attacks that you could learn.  You could use the number keys above to do the hotbar attacks, like many other MMOs, but that also felt weird, simply because the combat was so action-oriented.  Using the keyboard, you just needed  a lot of different buttons, and no configuration seemed to fit me.

However, you can use a controller!  I was happy to see that, since there are just some things a controller does better.  And once I got used to the controls, I felt it did work better overall.  There are a lot of shortcut functions plastered on it, and remembering them all can be a chore.  The game does try to remind you of the buttons, but most times it reminds you in the default keyboard layout, which doesn't really help when you are using a controller.  There were a variety of combat moves, so keeping them all straight wasn't easy.

The environments looked nice, but there was a bit too much scenery for me, to the point where it interfered in combat.  Enemy types blended in to each other, and it felt liked I rushed through the first several missions on my way to level 9.  This of course may well be because it's the beta, but I just kinda went to the marker, killed stuff, and moved on.  Nothing really stuck with me afterwards.

The beta for Black Desert Online was kind of fun.  The combat was nice and action-oriented, and using a controller felt good.  There were a lot of commands to remember, which was a tripping point for me.  The UI was busy and needed a lot of tweaking before I got to something I liked.  Most of my small issues could easily be cleaned up by the next closed beta.  I'm looking forward to see any improvements they've made in the future.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wasteland 2: Director's Cut (PS4) Review

Following a trend I approve of, Wasteland 2: Director's Cut has made the jump from PCs to consoles and is now exposed to a whole new audience.  It is a turn-based tactical RPG with battles on a grid.  This is how I pictured the first two Fallout games, and according to my pal David, I'm not that far off the mark.  Considering the first Wasteland almost 30 years ago influenced Fallout, it makes sense.  Regardless, I'm always game to try an RPG, so I was eager to try my review copy of Wasteland 2.

When starting the game, you can either go with premade people or make your own.  There are many different options for each character, and even though it was daunting, I choose to go through and make them all myself.  You can make a maximum of four to start any playthrough, so I did that.  You can choose all of their skills and give them a name, portrait, starting perk, age, religion (!) and brand of cigarettes (?!).  You can even give them a bio, which is awesome.  Sure, it's a pain to type it out on the controller, so I only did one, but I do think the option is great.  Too bad you can't zoom in to make it easier to see most of the appearance customizations.  Otherwise, it is hard to tell the different faces apart, even on a big TV.  Since the view is zoomed out anyway, I guess it doesn't ultimately matter, but it feels like an oversight.

You can also choose a starting perk, but they are noticeably less cool.  While some were wonderfully named, they all pretty much had a downside that to me, negated the positive.  Once I tired one, Raised in a Circus, since it was going on a character that wouldn't have the downsides.  Once I started the game, I quickly realized that my character is now a clown.  Red wig and nose, face paint, the whole nine yards.


So, I rerolled my entire party again, since you can't just save characters you make to some list.  As if the starting perks weren't useless enough, some will permanently make your character's appearance messed up.  It just seems like a waste to even have them if they are so bad.  Maybe one or two is useful, but I doubt I'll use any of them.  Even ones that seem great have compelling arguments against them.

While in each area, you move your character group around directly with the analog stick.  There are people to talk to and items to examine.  When you leave an area, there is then a world map that is used to move your party around.  Instead of seeing all members of your party, your group is represented by the rangers icon.  There's also a water level that drains while you move the cursor around, and you will take damage if it runs out.  You can encounter enemy groups or wandering merchants while moving around.  The biggest danger on the world map is the areas of radiation dotting the landscape.  Your whole party takes damage if you move in them, but there are radiation suits you can find to help with that.  An actual fast travel option would have been nice for returning to base and stuff.  Sure, that would negate the canteen for half of the game, but it would be nice.

When you encounter enemies, or a discussion goes awry, battle takes place.  It will take place on the actual area you are in, and the grid is just laid down on the landscape.  Each time a character's turn rolls around, they are granted their AP (action point) allotment.  Every action takes a certain amount of AP.  Movement is pretty cheap, so you can move really far if you don't want to attack.  On the grid, the blue movement spaces are where you can move and still attack, while the yellow ones are just how far you can move.  It's also possible to attack more than once a turn, as long as you have the AP.  Lower cost weapons also help a lot with that.  If you end your turn, you can keep a point or two of AP for the next turn.

There's also a few other things you can do on your turn.  You'll need to spend AP to reload your weapon if you run out of ammo, or to unjam your gun if it locks up.  It's a small chance to happen, but it really sucks when it does.  Spending AP to then fix it just makes it worse.  It's a more realistic system, but it can get annoying.  The last thing I'll mention is the Ambush system.  Give up some AP and your character will wait to attack.  When an enemy moves within range, or pops up from cover to attack, your character will attack.  It's a nice ability if you want to create a small death zone, get some pesky enemies hiding behind crates or punish melee-based enemies.  I'd enjoy it more if your people could attack more than once, but that would probably be overpowered.

At first, I had a fair amount of trouble with battles.  My accuracy was low, so hitting something was a pain.  This in turn wasted ammo and led to more damage sustained by my team.  I turned the difficulty down, and it was slightly better, but still not great.  So, I decided to look into stats and character creation.  Sadly, it turns out that there is some disparity with how useful certain stats are.  Luck is all but useless, and Charisma is mostly useless as well.  Intelligence is best set at one of three levels so you can get enough skill points to stay relevant.  Your accuracy with weapons is based on the appropriate skill, so this makes sense.  Also, while AP is important, battle initiative might be more so, since it determines how often you get your turn.

You can pretty much screw yourself if you make a bad party.  So, I rerolled them and applied the information I learned.  I also started on the easier setting, but probably didn't need to.  I was much more effective in combat and the game was much less annoying.  I'd prefer to not have to scour outside information to make a party that doesn't suck.  I feel it's less forgiving than the similar and recent Divinity: Original Sin in that regard.  However, I can also see that figuring out a great build across your party could make tackling higher difficulties much more plausible.  It's a learning process, so don't be surprised if you also have to start over.  While looking up info, it seems I wasn't the only person to have the same problem and solution.  Also don't be afraid to look up character builds to understand what each stat does and what is recommended and why.  There is no one perfect solution, but there are a lot of bad ones.

It's also really easy to miss stuff or mess up your game in a few other ways.  Early on you get an NPC part member who is pretty good.  However, she will eventually leave your team, so you can't build your other characters around her.  Thankfully I knew that ahead of time, but the game doing that can basically screw you over halfway through the game.  Yuck.  Most other companions will stay with you for the whole game, but only if you recruit them the first time they ask.  If you don't, they are forever locked.  What?  Missable things in an RPG or other long games is a big pet peeve of mine.  It might not be quite as bad in some games, but Wasteland 2 only gives you 10 save slots (not counting the auto and quick save ones).  A long game with lots of choices and punishing consequences should allow more than that.

Another problem with the game is the controls.  Half of them make sense, but the rest just don't gel with me.  I forget how to do certain things because it just doesn't seem intuitive.  Simple functions are made more complicated, and that frustration takes me out of the game.  I wouldn't recommend taking a long break from the game, as that exacerbates the problem.  Healing is pretty annoying, since it is really odd how you select your target.  I've accidentally healed enemies while trying to figure out how to target my own people.  Another stupid thing I've done is accidentally buy something from a vendor while trying to advance their dialogue.  Since there is no sell back, I would either lose money or time by reloading.  Some of these are pretty small, and some personal, but they add up.  It's not always a constant thing, but when these little annoyances creep up, it can be frustrating.

Wasteland 2 has a lot of dialogue, and much of it is spoken.  Your characters get several dialogue options, and even more if you have some of the right skills.  Note that there is a lot of mature language in the game (read: swears), so I definitely don't play it around my kids.  There are a few points in the game where you have to make a decision, which can effect where you can go and who can join your group.  Several of these have an associated trophy, so you'll have to either reload or go through again.  I like that there are good reasons to replay the game, but the completionist part of my brain screams at it.

Overall, Wasteland 2 is a mixed bag.  The game can be really fun.  It has a nice battle system with visceral kills, choices that change your progression and a lot of jokes and references to find.  The game is also pretty long and has good replay value in taking the other choices, alternate character builds and recruiting different NPC companions.  Then there is the flip side.  Base accuracy is really low, forcing you to take a lot of points in the relevant skill to not bleed out money and bullets.  It's ridiculously easy to make a terrible character that will near-necessitate starting the game over.  I would recommend the game to RPG and strategy fans, just be prepared to do research beforehand, or have the time to start over several times.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC (PSP) Early Impressions

Before now, I had heard of Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and how great it was.  Sadly, I had not played it yet, but got the chance to review the second chapter of the saga, not so strangely entitled Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC.  Being an RPG, it is a longer game, so in an effort to have something on it out in a timely fashion, I figured I would break it up into two parts: one an early impressions about my first few hours with the game, and then a full review later on.  Maybe not the best idea to make more articles when my plate is already full, but I do plan to do this for at least a few games.

The first thing that struck me before I started was: it is two downloads.

Wait, what?

Yup, when the game came out in Japan years ago, it was on two UMDs.  Wow, that's actually kind of impressive.  So when it was made a download, it is just two separate downloads, each one is one disc.  It's... weird for a digital release, but that's probably the only way to make it work.  I just have to keep straight which download is which disc.

The game picks up right where the previous game left off.  Well, I assume it is right after, as it seems like the story starts right at the end of the jolly festivities that would accompany some triumph in battle.  I'm sure this is great for the people that conquered the first chapter, but some kind of explanation of what was going on would have been nice, even if it was optional so returning players could skip it.  I'm sure even fans of the first might not remember some things, considering the gap between the games.  Honestly, most direct sequels do this, and it was a little disappointing to see it not done here.

My solution: play some of the first game.  Maybe that's a good reason to split the review in two.  Luckily it was on sale when SC came out, so I picked it up and played a few hours to generally learn some backstory and game mechanics.  That should make this chapter a little easier for me to understand.  It helped some, but not as much as I'd like.  A lot of references to characters and events from the previous entry still eluded me.  Yes, I should have played all of the first before, but I still feel some optional explanations would have been great.  Maybe as the story goes on, the previous events will sink into the background, but I feel there will still be some cameos and plot points that will leave me confused.

In all fairness, the game does cover a few previous plot points.  However, they seem to be the most spoiler-y ones.  Want to know more about this random character name we threw out?  Too bad!  Hey, this girl you are going to meet is a secret princess, and that old mayor was secretly evil!  Yeah, that might have been better to not say, but sure why not.  It's almost the exact opposite of what I would want the game to do.

Anyway, we will see how that goes later, and move on to the combat.  It's a turn-based affair, but has a unique layout to the map.  It is separated into a griid, and you can move around like an SRPG, but the game isn't one.  For one, you can't move, then attack as two separate commands.  If you select attack, then a target, you will run up and attack.  If you cannot move that far, you will get as close as you can.  If you select 'Move', then that's all you do.  There's no bonus for attacking from the sides or behind as far as I can tell.  So while it looks like an SRPG at times, it is a straight-up turn-based RPG, which is great.  Remember how fun those were?

You also get magic attacks, which are derived from elemental crystals that you equip.  Without going in to too much detail (in this part), these crystals will bestow different status effects and affect what spells you have access to.  It's a cool system that gives some good customization.  Plus, healing spells heal a set amount, so you can give them to fighters and still have it as a viable safety net.

Besides HP and AP (Art Points for magic, basically MP), there is also CP which is used for personal skills and even super moves.  These points are built up by taking and dealing damage.  When you have at least 100, you can use your super move, and even butt in and use it on the opponent's turn.  Some turns have bonus effects, and this is a way to either steal them, or prevent the enemy from using one that you would rather they didn't.

The only problem I have with that is it didn't feel like it rewarded me for using it.  I would jump in and steal the critical turn, but it didn't seem to help in the long run.  Battles felt pretty hard in the first few hours.  It may be because I didn't transfer a save file, but that isn't really good balance.  Every time I lost a fight through some annoying means (exploding enemies, etc.), it made me question the "awesome" nature of the game that I'd heard so much about.  Getting a preemptive strike helps a lot, so I'll try doing that more often and see what happens.  Plus, the starting level difference should even out the longer I play.

I'm definitely playing more, but it seems like I am in for the long haul.  The prologue itself took me 4 hours, which is pretty crazy.  Look forward to a full review of Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC in the future!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

RadioHammer (3DS) Review

RadioHammer is a downloadable rhythm game where you play as one of the DJs from a pirate radio station.  Instead of a traditional beat you have to keep, the "beats" are enemies that you have to hit with your large weapon (usually a hammer), all with some really nice sprite artwork.  The style of the game is unique, and I like it.

However, my favorite part is how it handles the notes.  As mentioned before, they are enemies that your character hits with their weapon.  The closer to the target the note is, the better the points you get.  The note scores range from best to worst is: perfect, great, good and bad.  Scoring a "bad" or missing a note will break your combo.  Each DJ has different enemies that relate to where they are and what they are doing.  MC Wayne has aliens shaped like notes and Simply Lita has zombies.  The first DJ, July Ann, easily has the best enemies.  They are perverts that, if not hit, will run up and flash her.  No, you don't actually see anything, but I think it's hilarious that those are the enemies she has to fight.

The enemies travel across either a high or low track, and you have to attack the appropriate one as they pass the target marker.  Sometimes presents will appear from behind you.  Grabbing the white ones will give you some bonus, like extra life or fever meter.  The green presents are traps, and have the opposite effect.  There's also a fever meter that builds as you attack enemies.  Once it is filled, the background changes for a bit and every hit is a perfect.  The first time I got MC Wayne's I actually messed up, since it is very different from July Ann's.  I expected a change, but not giant people with MC Wayne fist rings.  I was too busy being surprised and laughing to keep the beat that time.

Each stage has up to three stars you can earn.  The first is always completing the stage, but the other two can be things like grabbing all the presents, getting a certain amount of perfect hits, and other similar things.  They don't really do anything other than give you an excuse to replay the level and get them all if you want.  I think I would have preferred it if they could also unlock stages, so if you were struggling on a particular song you could move on to another DJ or something.

The gameplay is not super unique, but I like that it's not very complicated, making it fairly easy to play.  That isn't to say it doesn't get hard, as the game does get difficult.  The notes come faster and more numerous as you progress through the levels.  Plus, while the songs aren't that long by themselves, several levels will link the songs back to back as one, especially right before the boss stage.  These are pretty hard, since you have to make it the whole way through multiple songs with one life bar.  It becomes slightly easier once you realize that the enemy graphic will key you in to some of the rhythm.  One graphic is for a solitary note, another is a pair, and the third look is for a set of three.  I started to do better at the songs once I noticed they weren't just different graphics for the heck of it.

There are three basic ways to play the game.  You can use the touch screen to hit the notes, the face buttons (B, X, etc.) or the d-pad directions.  All of these are listed on the touch screen so you likely won't forget.  You can also use any kind of combination you want of the three, and easily switch mid song.  Well, easily if the song isn't too fast.  I favored the face buttons to hit the notes and the d-pad for the presents.  Although using only the d-pad came in handy for a few harder levels (notably MC Wayne's boss level).

In the story mode, the DJs are unfortunately unlocked sequentially, and that is because each one has harder songs than the next.  The first three DJs each have 3 episodes with 5 songs in them, and the last song of the last episode is the boss fight.  The fourth DJ is a guest character that is basically unlocked when you beat the game.  Once you beat a stage, you can do another version of it, which only has one track, but is much faster and with  more beats.

Other than the story mode, there is also Track Play, where you can play any song by itself.  Doing songs this way rates you with medals instead of stars.  There's also a random mode where you will play a random song at any difficulty.  A jukebox feature lets you listen to any completed song (my favorite is Oriental Girl), and finally there are trophies to earn in the game.

RadioHammer is a pretty fun rhythm game that is easy to pick up and play.  If you are skilled enough, you could beat the game in a day, but there is some replay value in collecting stars of doing Track Play.  If you are like me and not great at the game, you can still make your way through most of it fairly fast.  However, as a $5.99 downloadable game, the length and depth seem right (Note: I received a code for the game).  If you like rhythm games and would like a small game to play for a bit, RadioHammer is a fun and quick choice.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

DARIUSBURST Chronicle Saviors (PS4) Review

I like a variety of space shoot-em-up games frequently called shmups.  They usually task you with shooting lots of enemies and big bosses while dodging a cubic ton of bullets.  Whenever a new one is released on a console, I like to check it out.  Once I saw the well-known (to shmup fans) Darius series was bringing its latest iteration to the PS4 and Vita, I had to get a review code.

When the game starts up, you get two modes, AC and CS, and no real explanation of either.  There's also no real explanation of anything else, sadly.  Most of the modes and stuff you have to just try it out and hope for the best.  Playing the actual game isn't really difficult to figure it, it's more what each mode does.  Plus, the power-ups don't really have explanations.  It took me way to long to figure out what each did and their connection with the colored bars at the top of the screen.

The red bars and power-ups are for your main shot (the Square Button).  As you pick up the red ball power-ups, you will get more shots, and after the bars are filled, the shot will change and you can power it up again.  There is a limit for each ship, though.  The green bars are the bombs/missiles you also shoot out when you attack.  The power-up is very similarly to that of the shot.  The blue bars are your shields, and each mark is another hit you can take.  Since it only shows 5 bars, the true number is also shown next to your number of lives near the middle of the top of the screen.

Most of the ships also have a big laser attack when you hold down the X Button.  Using it drains a special meter that is either underneath your ship (AC mode) or at the bottom of the screen (CS mode).  It drains really quickly and is usually only filled when you destroy an enemy ship or their bullets.  A better use for the meter (most times) is a stationary laser satellite.  It drains the meter at a much slower pace, and can be used to concentrate fire on a particular area while you move around.  I like it a lot on bosses.  Plus it can make a nice shield in a pinch.

However, there is one fun use for the burst beam itself.  If you fire it right before an enemy's burst laser hits you (you will know they are doing it when they charge it up), you will absorb theirs while shooting back.  This will fill your meter while using it and the beam gets bigger and stronger.  It's like a Dragonball Z beam struggle in spaceships!  Once I figured out more about it, I try to do it on all the bosses, and not just for the trophy.  It's just so hype! doesn't always work.  I'm not sure if my timing is off or what, but there are plenty of times I try it and just eat several hits of the enemy's laser, which takes down my precious shield.  I guess it's part of the risk/reward for using it.

There are a total of 9 different ships, and there are a few core differences between them.  It's a bit hard for me to tell them apart visually, but they all have different shot and bomb patterns.  Not all of the ships have the big laser beam attack.  Origin is the original ship from way back when, and has no other capabilities than the shot and normal bomb attacks.  The Gaiden, my personal favorite, also lacks the beam.  Instead, it uses a full burst meter for a massive bomb that nearly clears the screen, similar to those found in other shmups.  The Murakumo, another one I really like, has the beam, but does not have the stationary laser bit.  It has up to four 'options' (little bits) the follow it, and pressing the L1 button will change their formation and attack pattern.  Overall, I really like the selection of ships, even if I couldn't pick them out of a lineup.

Now we will dive into the modes offered, and AC mode is first.  I think it stands for Another Chronicle, which was the name of the arcade version.  At first I thought it stood for Arcade Cabinet, since it assigns you a cabinet (which is important for the Chronicle mode) and even warns you on a game over to be careful when exiting the machine.  That's an authentic port from the arcade.  So authentic it sadly won't let you back out of any selections in this mode, and everything selection is on an automatic timer.  You have plenty of time, but at first it bothered me when I was trying to check out each mode and ship selection.

The modes inside of AC mode (insert inception meme of choice here) are Original, Original EX, Chronicle and Extra.  Original is the first arcade release of the game.  There are 12 stages, but you only play three of them.  Each level you complete gives you two choices for a next stage (think of a pyramid), so there is some decent replay value when trying to do every stage.  Plus, each stage has its own boss.  Original EX is very similar, but has a different set of 12 stages, and they are much harder variations of them, with more difficult bosses.  Both of these modes allow up to four players.

The third mode is Chronicle, and it boasts over 3000 levels.  The levels are spread out over some planets in a solar system.  Once you or someone else completes a level, nearby ones may unlock.  Each has different rules and restrictions of what ship is allowed, and what its loadout is.  Some require multiple players or might restrict it to one credit.  There are several "cabinets", and the game assigns you to one when you start.  You can change if you want one with more or less unlocked.  It's a pretty neat thing to put into the game that will give a lot of replay value if you want to tackle any of it.  The last mode is Event, which is locked.  Looking at the wikipedia entry for the game states it is an online I have no idea why it isn't unlocked when I'm online.  I think it might be for timed community challenges or something, and I'll update the review if/when I find out what the mode actually does.

AC mode has a lot to do thanks to Chronicle mode, but I feel the arcade faithful representation hurts it in some ways, too.  There is no real tutorial to teach you anything about the game.  Yes, the main idea is shoot and don't get hit, but some info on the power-ups and the burst counter would have been great at the start.  There is a demo attract mode, but the text is really small and hard to read, especially in the time given.  In fact, everything in this mode is really small.  I have to assume the actual arcade cabinet uses some crazy aspect to its screen, since the one here is letter-boxed on the top and bottom, and everything is small to accommodate the 4 possible players.  The loading screens look like they have some info, but they are in Japanese.  The pictures in them aren't too helpful either.  A manual would have really been helpful.

The second main mode is CS mode.  It's single player with main and sub stages, and completing main stages usually open up more, while sub ones are just for extra points.  Since it is single player, the viewable area is much nicer than AC mode.  You can easily see your ship and all relevant meters and such while playing.  When you complete a stage, your score is converted into points (at 1000 to 1) which are used to unlock different ships and power them up.  Technically, it isn't necessary to do so if you are good enough, as there is a preset for every level in the mode.  However, you can save up your points and buy one of the ships so you will always be able to use that one.  You can also get upgrades for a purchased ship to make it start with stronger shots and bombs, plus more shields to make it more durable.  The only problem with that is the upgrade costs are paid each time you use the ship in the mode.  I guess it means you always have a use for the points, but it sucks when trying to save up for the more expensive ships.

While there are a lot of stages in the game, there aren't many different settings for them.  Most stages seem cobbled together from a few different sections, and they rarely stand out from each other.  It's not a huge deal, since you are mostly paying attention to the enemy's fire patterns so you don't die.  There are a fair amount of different boss types, and each has several variants.  Each type is very different from each other, and the further variants are harder with some new attacks each.  There is a much bigger variety in the bosses than the stages, which is fine since a lot of stages are boss rushes, where you will have boss fights back to back, or with a small stage in-between.

Dariusburst can get difficult with the harder stages.  The hit detection on the ships seems a bit big, so some parts are stupid hard to not get hit.  Original and Original EX modes are on free play so you can power your way through all of the stages with any ship no problem, but Chronicle mode has some very difficult stages (I'm rarely one CC good).  The same is true for CS mode, where you can easily get stuck trying to move forward, and might have to grind earlier stages to get more points and buff out a purchased ship to get through.  Knowing how to fight each boss will go a long way in making the whole game easier, but it can still be very hard to dodge all the bullets.

When I first started Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours, I wasn't sure it had enough to justify the price tag.  The more I played of it, the faster that doubt disappeared.  The AC mode is a faithful representation of the arcade cabinet.  A little too faithful, since it is harder to see and the loading screens that likely help teach you the game and controls are in Japanese.  There is a lot of replayability in Chronicle mode though.  Also the CS mode is a lot of fun, but you can get stuck until you either improve or grind your way to purchasing a ship you like and decking it out.  If you are a fan of shmups, you should definitely pick up Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours on the PS4.  Now if only I could easily beat Thousand Knives...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Rodea the Sky Soldier (Wii U) Review

After nearly five years and a rocky road of development, Rodea the Sky Soldier has finally been released as a Wii U and 3DS game.  Originally conceived of as a Wii game, that version is included with first run copies of the physical Wii U title.  Sadly, the digital version (which I got a code for) does not include it.  It would have been fun to contrast the differences.

The story of the game isn't too bad.  You play as Rodea, a mechanical bodyguard for Princess Cecilia.  Her father, Emperor Geardo, is attempting to invade his neighboring country for resources, since it only passes by every 1000 years.  It's not a groundbreaking plot, but it works well for this type of game.  While the story scenes are ok, there is no option to advance through dialogue quickly.  You have to watch it all or skip it all.  Ugh.  The world of Garuda is a 3D world that Rodea can explore.  It reminds me a lot of 90s platforming action games.  The environments are whimsical and filled with muted colors.  Since Rodea can fly, there are a lot of floating structures to travel to as well.

Now we move on to how the game controls.  Well, simply put, the controls are awful.  You aim where to fly with the control stick, which makes sense.  However, to get the reticle to appear, you have to either jump and enter "pre-flight" by pressing the jump button again.  Then, you have a limited time to aim Rodea and press it a third time to go toward your destination.  That alone is overly complicated, but it's not going to get better.  You have to actually aim at something to fly, since Rodea can apparently only fly at things.  Did I mention if you don't pick a target quick enough Rodea will just being flying toward...somewhere.  Yeah, because that would be really helpful.  There is only a certain range you can aim towards, meaning you will have to chain flying at different objects to get anywhere.

This sky soldier must be malfunctioning, since he can only fly for so long before needing to land.  While not a good choice (to put it mildly), it's not the worst one made for the game.  Rodea also flys really slowly, making the game slightly more tedious than it already was.  You can upgrade his flight speed, but he then uses more "fuel", so the efficiency remains the same.  So even though you can fly faster, you don't go farther or longer.  What?

When you finish flying to a destination, Rodea just stops and drops like he's on fire.  You have no air control unless you aim at something to fly.  So if you jump, or stop flying and need to move just a smidgen over to land on a platform, no deal.  You have to basically aim at the ground and fly to it.  There's no reason for that to be the case.  Being able to do small adjustments in the air would go a long way in making the game playable.  Otherwise, you end up falling down the thing you were trying to fly to.

Why not fly up then?  Well, you get an ascending move that goes up a bit, but you can only use it once per jump/flight it seems.  And since you can't just fly, but have to aim at something, the best way to fly up a cliff side is to fly at it, bounce up, rinse repeat.  So instead of flying straight up, you are bouncing yourself up a wall like a ping-pong ball.  It's not only stupid, it's counter-intuitive.  The flying being fundamentally bad might be excusable if the whole game wasn't about flying.

The B Button is used to attack, and drains a chunk of the flight meter if done in the air.  You can hold the button to travel further.  If you hit an enemy or breakable object, you will bounce up and...back.  Yeah, it should be straight up or maybe somewhat forward, considering the game wants you to attack again during this time to combo enemies.  Moving back is bad for when you are trying to break objects, and near useless when hitting enemies.  If there are multiple enemies nearby, you can combo them by attacking again.  Trouble is, you only have a second or two to hit the button again to do so.  There is somewhat of an auto target, so you have to rely on that to hit the next enemy, since you don't have the time to slowly aim at them.

Rodea can attack on the ground, too, but he goes much farther if you don't hit anything.  It's way too far in my opinion, making it a pain to control it if you miss.  The ground attack is also inconsistent at breaking objects, as it may just go to the side of it or roll up over the top.  Even if it does break it, launching up and backwards doesn't help you break the rest of the group.  I ended up just trying to avoid attacking things unless I needed to.  It's just a pain to do so otherwise.

Early on in the game they also give you a gun to use.  At first I thought it was some joke on making the game more familiar to western audiences, but I'm pretty sure it isn't.  It also doesn't fix the problem with attacking enemies.  You only have your reticle while flying, so you don't aim the gun.  Yes, you read that right.  It auto aims the shots, so you just have to select it and hit the button when vaguely aimed at your target.  There may be some actual use for it later in the game, but it just feels like a waste of time to even have it.

Sorry, but we still aren't done with the terrible controls.  Aiming the reticle and moving the camera are many times linked together.  Trying to aim at a specific thing (like a quick enemy or star pick-up) is near impossible when the camera and reticle are moving at the same time.  That isn't to say that the reticle moves fast, as it's still very slow.  You just can't aim at a small thing well at all.  There are sadly no options to change the speed of the reticle or even allow inverted aiming.  The camera also re-centers itself if you move it around.  Add these all together, and you just get a terrible camera all around.  It's slow, no option for inversion, and won't let you look around.  It makes exploration painful.  That wouldn't be so bad if it was always clear which way to go.  Sometimes there is a marker, but other times it's just a vague notion of "go this way".  If you have to find specific objects, which happens at a few points, those aren't always marked very well and looking around for them can be headache-inducing.

Rodea has an upgrade-able health meter, and a stock of lives.  Grabbing enough yellow star things will give you an extra life.  Levels also have a few checkpoints in them that you will go back to if you die.  Pretty standard for a game of this type.  Assuming you can stand playing it, there is some decent replayability in the levels.  There are collectibles to get and ranks for different aspects of the level, like highest combo and damage taken.  The collectibles do actually help out, since some are used to upgrade Rodea's abilities, and some will unlock some additional content.  You are also timed on each level, which is supposed to help encourage you to speed run.  As a person who doesn't do that, it's just another thing the game ranks you on as you struggle to move Rodea how you want.

However, maybe all of this is just me.  Maybe it just doesn't click with me and the game is actually fun to somebody.  After seeing me play, my son wanted to give it a go.  He liked the story and enemies, but not the bosses and the flying.  He thought the game was hard because he had trouble aiming at the correct places to fight the bosses.  At least he enjoyed it more than I did, but I wouldn't say he liked it much, either.

Rodea the Sky Soldier starts out okay, but quickly gets aggravating and tiresome.  The setting and look of the game are the high points, while the controls are easily the low point, to the extent of ruining the entire experience.  I'm sure there is someone somewhere who can not only tolerate the game, but actually enjoy it a little, but it's not me.  Whenever I finished a level, my facial expression told the story of disgust, anger and sadness that I had.  This is no Pixar movie, though, as there was no joy to be found.  I've heard the Wii version is somehow better, but there is no way for me to verify that with the digital version.  As it stands on its own, Rodea the Sky Soldier for Wii U is not an experience I would want to repeat.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Warhammer 40,000: Regicide (PC) Review

I recently covered a preview of Warhammer 40,000 (commonly called 40K in the fandom): Regicide after getting a review key from the publisher, and finally put some more time into the full release of the game.  All three acts of the campaign are available now, and it is effectively a story mode for the game, following the Space Marines as they battle the Orks.  The battles and kill animations are pretty bloody and savage, which fits in really well with the war-torn universe.

Campaign battles are small scale strategy maps where a small group of the Space Marines fight a small group of Orks.  The characters you have move like chess pieces.  You can attack enemies and have different abilities, like taking cover and throwing grenades.  There are pieces of cover around the field that can obstruct your line of sight and movement.  The stages are fairly small and over pretty quick, but there are a lot of them to do in the campaign.  Each stage also has secondary objectives that you can complete for extra experience and Requisition.  These are used to purchase skills for your loadout in the other modes, as well as a few unlockable skins for both sides.

The other modes available are Multiplayer and Skirmish, which are basically the same.  Multiplayer is against another person online while Skirmish is against either the AI or another person in the same room (couch versus).  In both of these modes, you can choose to do either Regicide or Classic.  Classic is straight-up chess, but with kill animations.  The animations are different depending on which unit kills which, and can be entertaining to watch.  As mentioned before, it is very reminiscent of Battle Chess from back in the 90s, which is a good thing.

Regicide is a mix of chess with the attacks and abilities your pieces get in campaign.  You both start with a normal chess array of pieces, and can still kill opposing pieces as you would in chess, or by shooting them enough.  You also get skulls each turn that represent action points.  Each action (like attacking, using an ability, etc.) will take a set amount.  It's a pretty cool mode that mixes pure chess with some of the strategy element found in the campaign mode.

Since the game is based off of chess, if you know how to play that, you can do pretty well.  There is a tutorial mode that will teach you how the different pieces move and how to play each mode, which should be helpful for anyone to be able to play.  There is also an armory that allows you to pick a skin for each side, and even set a few different loadouts against both Marines and Orks.  As mentioned earlier, you can purchase most of these with skill points gained from leveling up and Requisition.

I like the old Battle Chess game and I love Warhammer 40k.  So, it stands to reason that I would like Regicide, and I do.  I'm not sure how much I'll play it, since I'm not great at chess, but I do like all the modes offered.  My son likes chess, so I would let him play the classic mode if there was a way to turn off or lessen the gore.  Maybe I'll try turning off the kill cam and see how that changes it.  The only real complaint I have with the game is that you can only be (genetically modified) humans and Orks.  As a fan of the Eldar, I would always love to see them get some recognition in any Warhammer 40k games.  Even so, the game is pretty fun for fans of Warhammer 40k or Battle Chess, as long as you don't mind your pieces blowing each other's brains out.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell (Xbox One) Review

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell continues the new Saints Row tradition of going over the top.  Playing as either the arguably most well-known character of the franchise, Johnny Gat, or Kinzie, hacker extrordinaire, you must rescue the president (the boss from Saints Row IV) from Satan's clutches.  Yes, this is the real plot.  If you have played Saints Row IV, this shouldn't be a surprise to you.

Anyway, in some ways it plays very much like SR IV.  It is however, a standalone expansion, and does not require the base game to play.  Awesome!  More games should do that for DLC that doesn't affect the main game (looking at you, Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix).  Gat Out of Hell is definitely a download title, though, as the city and content is noticeably smaller than SR IV.  It is also cheaper, being a $20 standalone expansion.

Both characters share the same weapons and powers.  The powers are reminiscent of SR IV, as are some of the elements, but there are some new additions.  The summon is new and very useful once you power it up.  The three elements are summoning little imps, a big ogre-like creature, and a tower.  At first the tower isn't very good, but once it gets range and damage enhancements, that thing can take down tough hellspawn in two hits!

You still get super speed and super jump, but now get wings to fly instead of the glide.  It took about 20 minutes to get used to how they work, but I like them much more than the SR IV gliding.  It was much easier to move around the city with them versus the glide, and even doing the achievement/trophy for going from one side of the map to the other was much easier than it was in SR IV.  After I got used to them, I really like the wings and don't want to go back to the glide.

There is no real mission structure to the main story, which is a big departure from the norm in this genre.  You do very few actual story missions.  The main goal is to get Satan mad, so you do this by doing the distractions (side missions), or just generally causing mayhem.  It's a nice idea, but not a good substitute for actual missions, which would have given the title more playtime.

The side missions and challenges are more hell themed to fit with the game.  The races are flying races, not running, and there is one game where you have to catch falling souls before they hit the ground.  There are survival ones too, but they are reminiscent of the virus mini-games from SR IV.  They also keep the insurance fraud, and it is still fun.  Though the achievement for hitting 5 cars before touching the ground can fall down a flight of flaming punches.

The biggest knock against the game is the length.  Beating the main story took me about 5 hours.  Taking over all of the districts, having all powers, collectibles, weapons and gold medals in the side quests took me 11.  I also had over half of the challenges done, too.  So, while fun, the game might not be worth the full $20 asking price unless you intend to get all achievements and 100% it.

However, easily the best part of the game are the special weapons.  Modeled after the 7 deadly sins, there is a weapon for each one.  Wrath is a flaming sword, lust is a shotgun that makes enemies amorous and things like that.  My two favorites are greed and sloth.  Greed is a golden chain gun that shoots out jewels as the bullets.  It costs a lot of in-game money, but it is very appropriate.  Sloth is a recliner that has a machine gun and rocket launchers in it.  You don't run around, the chair just slides along the ground as your character sits back and lets the mayhem commence.  It might be a small detail, but these two in particular felt well thought out and just really fun and cool to use.

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell is very, very fun and not too hard, but might not be worth the asking price.  If you get it with Saints Row IV on the current gen consoles, it is very much worth is and worth playing.  It is a condensed Saints Row experience that I think I prefer to the base game!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition (Xbox One) Review

Divinity: Original Sin was successfully kickstarted and deliver about a year ago, then happily made its way to consoles last month.  I've played three other Divinity games, and although they are very different from each other, I've enjoyed them.  Original Sin is like a mix of Diablo and a turn-based RPG, and it even boasts co-op, so I can take my wife along for the ride.  In fact, we ended up playing co-op a whole lot, but I made sure to get a little single player in.

At first, you have to create not one, but two characters to play with.  There are a lot of skills, stats and perks and it can be really daunting if you want to try and make someone from scratch.  Thankfully the game does provide you with several bases from the three archetypes of fighter, mage and rogue.  From there it is much easier to change a few things and tailor them to your wants and needs.  Although I do think it is better in this game to read through the stuff, pick one of the classes and change just a few things before jumping in.  This is because there is a lot of stuff you will learn as you go, and it is easier to restart once you've learned a thing or three.

Starting over isn't really too bad, since there are so many different skills, talents and perks that there is always some combination to try out.  You do get enough points throughout your levels that you can experiment a little, but it is wisest to stick to the strengths of your character and their path.  A lot of the stuff is useful, even if only occasionally.  The variety of talents to choose from is pretty big.  There's one called Glass Cannon that gives you more AP per turn, but halves your health.  Risky, but can be great for a late game mage.  Another interesting one is called Lone Wolf.  Taking it increases your stats, but you cannot have a follower, limiting you to your first two characters.

When not in battle, you directly move your characters around the map.  Up to four party members can be linked together to move as a group, but you can also have them move separately, or in uneven groups.  It's pretty cool.  Even more so, you can have your party in different positions to start battles.  Leave your ranged characters back while your close combatants run in to start the fight.  Or, have a character that is immune to ground effects wade through some dangers for the whole group.  Sadly, you can't change the formation of your party to make them single file, at least not that I've found in the console version.  It's not the biggest deal, but it would help when trying to navigate a trap field.

 Battles take place wherever you are when you start the encounter.  Each turn you get a certain number of AP dictated by your stats that is used to move, attack and use skills/magic.  If you end your turn, you can keep your leftover AP up to your max, which is also dictated by your stats.  It is similar to systems used in other games in that regard.  The movement plane is not grid based, but fairly free form.  How much AP it takes to move is adjusted by your equipment and speed stat, and each skill and spell has a set range that you can target in.

Skills and magic also have a cooldown so you can't spam your best moves every turn, even if you have the AP.  Once you get a lot of them, you have plenty of things you can do on your turn, and it is nice to be able to use multiple skills and/or attack.  There is definite strategy in positioning yourself for maximum safety and to take advantage of your abilities.  You will need to get good at combat, because it can be very fluid and difficult.  Several attacks and effects will limit your mobility and AP gain, so being able to adapt will make you victorious in even dire situations.  You will need any advantage you can get when you are outnumbered or out-powered by your foes.

One big defining feature of the battles in Original Sin are the sheer amount of environmental effects and how your abilities interact.  If there is an oil barrel, you can explode it.  Ooze on the ground?  Ignite it!  Fire around?  Use rain to put it out and create steam.  Then freeze or electrocute the resulting puddle.  Steam and smoke will also obscure your vision, making distance attacks impossible.  It's pretty inventive, but also way too prevalent for me.  These things tend to work against me more than for me, no matter how careful I am.  It was always better to me to take care of them before the battle if possible, even though it's fun to teleport and enemy into them.  I do appreciate how it all works together, but it's a presence that's just too common for my liking.

Combat isn't the only thing you can do while going around the map.  There's also the possibility on going to the other side of the law and steal.  There are skills for pickpocketing and lock picking, both of which can net you some extra items and money, or maybe even help you solve a quest.  Honestly, lock picking isn't near as necessary as it is in other RPGs.  Pretty much all locked doors and chests have a corresponding key, and most can be broken down if you don't want to try and find it.  Pickpocketing has a few uses, but again doesn't seem worth doing.

Stealing and sneaking on the other hand, are very useful.  Sneaking helps you not be seen while entering places you aren't supposed to be, and it looks hilarious.  When you sneak, you cover yourself in some piece of scenery, like a big rock, bush or barrel, and usually look out of place.  Plus, when you walk, you scuttle your legs beneath the object like an old cartoon.  It's really awesome and I just love the animation itself, let alone how useful it is.  If someone sees you, then the sneaking fails and you pop out of your funny hiding place.  Stealing is a great way to earn money (in the game, not real life).  Taking items while no one is looking (or when distracted by your partner) nets you some good items to sell or use.

Of course there is a robust crafting system that allows you to turn a lot of the junk lying around into useful items.  Not only can you find recipes, but experimenting will help you learn lots of new combinations.  There are lots of food dishes to make that give health and a temporary stat boost, and pieces of equipment to make.  The equipment you make isn't that great, but can make you a few gold when you sell them.  If you put enough points into it, you can also create skill books to teach your characters new spells instead of buying them.  There's also several modifications you can do to your pieces of equipment to add a new ability, which unlike making your own, is very useful.

Being a more modern RPG, Divinity: Original Sin also has a fairly robust dialogue system.  Many conversations have lots of line options to learn more about certain things, and of course many choices that affect how the whole dialogue goes.  If they are close enough, your two created characters will both join in, and you can give them separate opinions, which is really awesome.  You can choose them yourself, have the second player do it, or even set an AI to do it.  As an added bonus, certain responses will shift your personality toward one of two sides, and each one will give you some extra stat or skill points in certain things.  For example, being more heartless in your responses will give you extra backstabbing damage.  It's really cool to see extra stat and skill bonuses just for dialogue responses.  Although, it can be hard to tailor your answers for specific stats unless you know the result ahead of time.

However, there is one part of the dialogue system that I really dislike.  I've mentioned that you and your partner can disagree on certain things.  So what happens when you do?  Well, you get to play a rock-paper-scissors mini-game that represents your argument, of course.  There tend to be three options in conversations, one each for Reason, Intimidate and Charm.  Each round of RPS you win will give you some points (based on the corresponding skill) toward winning.  If you get 10 points, you win the argument.  For dealing with a co-op person it's not terrible.  When dealing with the AI, it's just awful.  Have you ever tried to win something like RPS with a computer?  They pretty much decide if you are winning or not.  It's not always so random, since they know what you choose.  It makes me really miss just having a random die roll in the background to pass the stat check.  That is at least over quicker if I need to reload.

So, how is the co-op?  Well, it works surprisingly well.  Each player can control one of the created characters, and you have two more possible members to recruit, and can split them however you want between the two of you.  Thankfully you aren't tethered to each other either.  As long as you are on the same loaded area, you can travel however far you want from each other, and even fight separately if you want.  This was very helpful to me, as my wife would take chunks of time to craft stuff, so I would use that time to do other things.  All experience is evenly shared too, so if one person is in town and the other is off fighting, nobody is missing experience.  If one player is in a conversation with an NPC, the other player can listen in if they are close enough, or just run off and do their own thing.  Be sure to use the d-pad to force splitscreen, otherwise it can almost be as headache inducing as the LEGO games when you are running around each other.  Even if it is forced, battles take place on a joined screen if both people are participating.  You will only control the characters that you were assigned.

Original Sin has a pretty steep difficulty.  Nothing scales to your level, and enemies don't respawn, so in many ways you don't have a lot of freedom.  You can take on enemies a level higher, but it is a more difficult proposition.  Sadly, even on the easiest setting you can still lose.  Battles can go bad fast, mostly thanks to the environmental stuff everywhere.  You have to either make it work to your advantage, or try an neutralize it beforehand.  Take full advantage of the quick save slots you set to avoid wasting much time when you lose a fight.  I honestly don't think I would ever try the game on the hardest setting, given how quickly a battle can turn against you.  There is an ironman option for the masochists out there, though.

The main story takes a long time to do, especially if you try and clear out as much as you can so you are properly leveled.  It took my wife and I well over 50 hours to go through all we did, but she did spend a lot of time crafting items.  There are a lot of side quests and such to do, and they tie in pretty well to your core objectives that there is no real reason not to do them.  Most of the game's replayability is trying out different character types/builds and team configurations rather than missing something.  Still, with so many character options, it's a good reason to replay the game.

Overall, I think Divinity: Original Sin is worthy of the praise it has received and should receive.  It is a really good RPG and does a lot of interesting things that I haven't experienced in games before.  I'd say the sheer amount of character customization, interesting battles, wonderfully done co-op and fluidity of the quests are easily the high points of the game.  There were a few small things I found annoying though, like the difficulty, the ever present environmental effects and the disagreement rock-paper-scissors mini-game.  If you are a fan of RPGs, you should definitely check out Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition, and even more so if you can bring a friend with you.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Family Fishing (3DS) Review

Family Fishing is a 3DS game about, well, fishing and is aimed at slightly younger audiences.  It also has a cute anime style to the game and characters.  One strange but nice feature is the start screen which boasts two main options: Start Game and Quick Game.

Quick Game does just what it promises.  It will pick a character for you, your opponent and a location to fish in.  It's a nice option to have when you just want to jump in, but not one I would use more than once or twice.  I'd have a lower chance of it picking a character I like using, so I might as well just not use Quick Game.  Choosing to start a game will present you with some other modes: Campaign, Free Battle and Survival.

Immediately I thought, "Survival?  In a fishing game?  What, does the fish eat you if you fail?".  Nope.  The game is basically your character against your opponent, so you will just keep facing a random rival until you are defeated.  Not bad, and not a mode I would have expected.  Also, the computer in this mode seems a bit harder than normal.

Free Battle lets you choose characters for both you and your opponents and the location for the fish-off.  You can also set the strength of the fish and opponent to make it easier or harder on yourself, all of which are useful options.  It's especially nice to try out characters this way.  Campaign mode starts with your choosing one of the eight character, and then you must battle the other seven, one by one, until you've defeated them all.  The characters are kind of cool, since only the two children have names.  The rest are based off their relationship to the kids, so they are called Mommy, Daddy, Grandpa, etc.  It's cute.

The eight characters each have a starting rod and lure, which will help catch fish in slightly different ways.  The rods have different amounts of strength, reel speed and HP.  You can get other rods during a fight, so you aren't limited to your starting one.  The lures are specific for different sizes of fish, and you have to buy them from the store each round with points you earn by catching fish.  Sadly they can break if your rod's HP runs out when fighting with the fish, and you will have to buy another to use it again.  There's also a chaos lure that can hook any fish but with a low chance.  Given my track record with random chances (I tend to be unlucky), I stay far away from this one.

Each character will also have a unique special move to help you.  Once a meter is filled, the special move can be activated.  They have a variety of effects, from damaging fish to restoring HP.  I prefer restoring the rod's HP, since that will help in a sustained battle with the fish, but also might just save your lure.  You can also purchase items from the store during a match.  The button to use them is the same as activating the special move, and I've accidentally used an item when trying to use my special, so make sure the correct name is next to the button when you press it.

You may have noticed that I have yet to mention how to actually play the game.  Well, that is my way of illustrating how the game does it.  Namely, not at all.  In some ways I can appreciate the old-school simplicity of just throwing the player into the game and letting them figure it out, but not in an immediately competitive setting.  I would very, very strongly suggest when you start the game to check out the manual after pressing the Home button.  While I have not played many fishing games, I have played several fishing mini-games during my life.  Family Fishing is different enough that any prior knowledge I had doesn't help.  Seriously, read it before you play, as the game offers very little when you start out.

To start, you choose where to cast your line, and then have a timing press on a meter to determine how close to your aim your lure will land.  You can move the lure around a bit which will help attract a nearby fish to bite.  If it does, then you have to hold A to reel it in.  You also need to point your pole in the direction the fish is moving to send "aura" pulses down your line to lower the fish's HP.  As you do this, it will also send attack toward you.  If you switch your direction to match the fish when it turns, you will send a larger aura pulse to do more damage.

You must also keep in mind how angry the fish is.  As you reel it in, the fish will get angry, as shown by an anger mark above its head.  The longer you hold the button, the larger it will get until the fish sends an unblockable attack at you.  So, you need to let go of the A Button when the mark appears.  It's a strange balancing act to keep moving your pole around to match the movements of the fish while trying to not have it get too angry.  It makes the fishing much more active than I would have originally thought.

Personally, I found it really difficult to match the fish's movement at times because of the small screen and all the different fish and other things on the screen.  So while the game seems to be aimed at a younger crowd, half the time I had trouble winning!  Part of the difficulty was trying to see the fish and match its movement, but the other half was the game itself.  It didn't always seem to take a fish's HP at the same rate in different fights in the same area.  It really felt like "if the fish doesn't want you to win, you won't".  It wasn't really a problem in the Campaign until near the end, but it was much more prevalent in Free Battle and Survival.  There's also a boss near the end of each match, and catching it will net that person an automatic win.  I like that there is an alternate way to win, and they are the largest and strangest things to catch in the game, but they do require a lot of work to take down and are not always worth the trouble.

Family Fishing is kind of fun.  I like that it has a quick play option, and the different characters give some longevity to playing.  There's only five areas, so you will probably get tired of them by the time you are done going through the campaign and doing some free or survival battles.  The fishing was very unique and active, which is nice, but the game gives you no real help unless you read the digital manual.  While the game seems more aimed at kids, it can get more difficult in the later fights.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Moco Moco Friends (3DS) Review

At first Moco Moco Friends looked like a cutesy version of Pokemon, and in a way, it kind of is.  Instead of normal monsters, the ones in Moco's world are Plushkins, which are like living stuffed animals.  It's a pretty neat idea and setting for the game.

While the story started off fine, it quickly irked me.  There just seemed to be so much idle chatter.  I'm fine with characters conversing, but the people in Moco sometimes just add a lot of extra dialogue that I got tired of very quickly.  Plus, you can't exactly mash through it, since there are gaps in the dialogue boxes appearing for moving and other things.  The actual story is fine and easy to follow.  Each chapter tends to be similar: opening dialogue, talk to someone else, go to dungeon(s), defeat boss, dialogue, move on.  It works for what it needs to do, even if it is formulaic.

Dungeons are small and randomly generated.  Each floor has about 3-6 rooms connected by hallways and look like dungeons found in mystery dungeon style games.  All the ones I've encountered had only two floors and then the boss room, so they are very bite-sized.  It's not really as bad as it may sound.  While they are a little short, at least they aren't over 20 floors, since that gets boring too.  Each dungeon has a particular theme for the simple scenery.  There are also random treasure chests and harvest points to get items from.

The harvest points each have a little mini-game with them, where you hold the A Button and let go at a certain point in the animation.  If done correctly, you will get two items instead of one.  If you let it go too long, you fail to harvest any items, but the harvest point remains.  You lose a few seconds, but keep your chance at getting two items, so it's always better to let it go longer than shorter.

Battles are turn based and feature up to 3-v-3.  You select the move you want to do for each of your party members, and then all combatants do their moves in...some order.  It doesn't feel like it is solely based on speed, but it's also not entirely random.  Up to four Plushkins can be taken with you, but the fourth is a reserve that you can use to replace one.  Usually, I have that as the one I'm trying to level up and rarely switch them in to combat.  It would be nice to carry more for that purpose.  Switching or using an item does not take any of your Plushkins' turns, either.

Each move that a Plushkin does takes some of Moco's magic, represented by the dots around the gear in the top right of the screen.  Each turn Moco restores half of the total number of dots.  Usually the stronger the attack, the more dots it takes, which is shown on the attack.  The circle in the middle of the gear builds up and when full, allows unlimited magic for 1 turn.  Unfortunately, it is automatically applied.  It would be awesome to save it for a boss fight, but you can't.  It's still a nice feature that gets more useful as you get more magic-hungry abilities.

The Plushkins can learn up to four moves, but one of them is always a generic attack.  Once they learn another move, you can choose to replace one of the three with the new one.  My favorite part of the combat is selecting the move/item and target.  It's done with the different directions on the d-pad, which is pretty intuitive.  I've probably seen it before, but that doesn't diminish how fluid it is.  My only gripe with the combat is the accuracy.  The base is 90%, meaning you miss more than I would like.  It only goes down from there.  The big attacks that hit the whole enemy group are costly and tend to miss at least one opponent.  Bleh.

 Plushkins can also evolve to a new, higher form once they reach a certain level and you have some specific items.  Their level is reset down to one, but their stats are higher than the previous form.  It will take them more experience to level up in the new form, but they are capable of taking on some higher level enemies.  They also have a max level, but you can basically sacrifice one of the same type to increase it.  Each one will also have up to two innate skills and up to two species skills.  To unlock the skills, you will need some more, different items and raise their level some.  So, there is a good use for some extra Plushkins, and I like how involved the leveling is with them.  Now if only it were easier to get the items necessary.

The town that Moco resides in has some useful functions.  First there is the Plushkin house that lets you do things that pertain to the monsters themselves, like change your party, evolve them or awaken their innate abilities.  Second is the sewing house that lets you convert your harvested materials into different types of items, like healing ones and equipment.  This is really useful, but you can only dictate the type of item made, and the result is random.  Obviously, this can make it time consuming to get the ones you actually need.  Third is the farm that allows you to grow seeds to get particular materials and has a few harvest points like the dungeons.  You can also set plushkins at special pots that they will harvest.  This function is really nice, but suffers from the same problem the story does.  There is way too much dialogue and animations for just assigning a plushkin to a pot to harvest.  Again, not game-breaking, but annoying.  It might only be an extra 10-15 seconds, but multiply that by how often you are using the garden and you get an idea of how much time is wasted.

The game is not really difficult at all, and I don't think it is supposed to be.  I didn't have a single of my plushkins get KO'd until late in the game, and really only happened because I had a newly evolved one that hadn't caught its levels back up.  Even then, I won the fight with no other issues.  I'm fine with the game being on the easy side, since it's likely intended for younger audiences and it's pretty relaxing to play through it.  It will probably take around 15-25 or so hours to make it through the game, depending on how focused you are on doing the story versus other stuff.  Getting some of the rarer plushkins to join you will take some luck and time, since you need particular dungeons to show up, and then have to get lucky again for them to join you after battle.

Moco Moco Friends feels like a mix of Pokemon with some mystery dungeon elements (and no, not like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon).  It's a very cutesy game, and my 5 year old daughter thought many of the monsters looked cute.  It's not very hard, and probably just right for kids.  While I have a few small problems, mostly related to the extra dialogue in the game, it is pretty relaxing to play.  The monster designs are pretty nice, but the dungeons are kind of bland.  Still, Moco Moco Friends is a decent RPG on the 3DS.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Superbeat XONIC (PS Vita) Review

Superbeat XONiC is a new rhythm game from a relatively new studio.  I'm not too good at these types of games, but I figured I should give it a try anyway.  The notes you have to hit for each song approach a ring at the edge of the Vita's screen.  At first it reminded me of the last rhythm game I played on the Vita, Persona 4 Dancing All Night.  However, XONiC is very different.

For one, the songs are more complicated.  There are four note types: single, swipe, scratch and FX.  Single is just pressing the button, d-pad or appropriate place on the screen when the note is on the ring.  If the note has a tail, then you hold it until the end of the tail.  Simple enough.  Next is the swipe note, which requires you to 'flick' the section of the screen or use the Vita's analog stick and move it in the indicated direction.  This is much harder than it sounds.  For one, it really messes me up to have to transition from buttons to the stick and back so quickly.  I had this problem in Dancing All Night, but I only had to hit the stick since the direction didn't matter.  Now I have to hit in in the right direction and get my fingers back quickly to hit other notes.  It really makes me fumble.  Using the touch screen is 50% better for me.  I can hit the swipe down notes easy enough, but it doesn't always register the up swipes.

Similar to the swipe note is the scratch note.  These are a kind of magenta color.  Scratch notes require you to either tilt the stick in the direction noted or slide your fingers in the direction noted.  These can be tricky with the touch screen, but only if you move too slow.  You don't have to follow the placement of the note so much as register that you are moving in the proper direction.  The last note is FX, and these require you to push the L or R Buttons as indicated.  These only show up on the 6Trax FX difficulty, talked about below, so I wasn't able to see them.

Overall I felt the touch screen was much easier to play the game with, since switching from the buttons and d-pad to the sticks messed me up a lot.  That said, I still had trouble getting the swipes to register all the time (if there was too much friction, my finger wouldn't slide enough to register).  The game can also be played on the PSTV, but I imagine it would be harder with a bigger screen.  It might be easier to hit the swipe and slide notes, though.

In the upper left hand side of the screen, there is a health gauge that depletes when you miss a note.  If it empties, you fail the song but still get to play it the rest of the way through.  Hitting notes will slowly fill it up.  The upper right hand side has the Fever meter.  As you hit notes, this meter builds up until it is full.  Once full, you go into Fever mode, where you get a point multiplier on each hit note.  Notes hit on the ring will give Superbeat rank, which is worth the most points.  Hitting it a little too early will net you a Good rank, and missing it entirely will get a Break.  At the end of the song, there is a judgment ranking that is higher the more Superbeats you hit.

One of the two play modes is called Stage.  You choose your type/difficulty and play three songs in a row.  You can select the next song from the list they have, which sadly doesn't have all the songs you have unlocked.  It might be a balance thing, I don't know.  Anyway, the three difficulties are 4Trax, 6Trax, and 6Trax FX.  The "Trax" are the outer sections of the ring that have notes.  So, for 4Trax, there are two sections per side, up and down.  This is the mode I am most comfortable with.  Next is 6Trax, which has up, side and down.  Here's where the touch screen didn't do as much good.  I don't know if my fingers are too fat or my aim is bad, but I had some trouble getting the game to register my hits correctly, mostly because they are much smaller areas.  Plus, the top and bottom both use green for the single notes so you can't just match colors to try and keep the buttons straight.  With a lot more practice, I could get good at 6Trax, but I'll probably try to stick with 4Trax and not embarrass myself too much.

6Trax FX is the hardest in the game.  It wisely has to be unlocked, so sadly I didn't get to try it and get humiliated.  6Trax did that enough.  In Stage there is one final option called Freestyle that allows you to pick any song and play it.  However, it will not track your highest score for that song.  It does keep your combo even after you finish a song, so you could conceivably max out the combo with enough tenacity (or a DJ shield).  I honestly would have preferred an option to just play one song, and keep the score for it, instead of stringing a combo along or having to play 3 songs back to back, but sadly XONiC doesn't have that option.

The second play mode is World Tour.  This mode groups together challenges for you to complete on a song or group of songs.  There are easy, medium and hard of each challenge, but it mostly equates to song difficulty.  Each set of challenges is unlocked once you reach a certain DJ level, and each one rewards you with an icon or beat sound.  It's not as hard as I initially thought, since certain DJs will help you power through some early challenges.  The shield skill in particular helped me.  However, some of the extra challenges can be tough.

For example, one early set on "easy" had the fade-in notes.  Meaning, I would only get to see the note when it was close to the ring.  This was still pretty early in the World Tour mode, and it felt like too much of an extra thing to throw on there for the "easy" challenge.  The core challenge was to not miss more than 20 notes, and this made it harder.  Strangely, the "normal" challenge didn't have the fade-in, and was actually easier.  The hard challenge in that set was really hard for me, but mostly because the song had a ton of notes and went really fast.  It just feels unbalanced, since it's still pretty early and I have to play harder songs.  I dread to see what the later ones are.

As mentioned before, you can unlock new DJs and note sounds.  They are awarded when your DJ level increases, or you complete a challenge in World Tour.  Each DJ has two skills that help you.  There is extra health, increased experience, break shields, etc.  I personally favored the extra experience so it was faster to unlock more DJ icons.  Once I figured out what shield did, I loved it too.  It really helped me complete some challenges and get higher scores.  I still wasn't better at the game, but I felt better.  The note sounds you unlock change up what the note sounds like when you hit it.  Pretty basic, but it is nice and you get a lot of options.

Superbeat XONiC has many songs to choose from, and even some I wouldn't have expected (there's a song from Guilty Gear Xrd).  It's a good mix of many styles, from pop to R&B to Hardcore.  It would take a lot of time to play through them all and raise your DJ level high enough to unlock all the World Tour stages, and finish them.  It will also take a lot of skill.  Maybe a bit less with a good DJ icon.  I liked a lot of the songs, even if I wasn't very good at the game.  However, fans of rhythm games should definitely check it out.